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[Hunger Alert] INDIA: Villagers die of hunger due to corruption in public food distribution and lack of livelihood in Bihar

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received the information regarding the deaths of five villagers of hunger from the Hunger Free Bihar Campaign, a human rights group working on right to food in Bihar. According to the report, three of the deceased villagers had not received benefits from the public services to ensure food security and livelihood which they were entitled to. It has been disclosed that the public services failed to take action to prevent the deaths and ensure the food security due to corruption and the neglect of the relevant public officials. Jehanabad and Nalanda districts where the deceased resided are the two areas out of 26 districts officially declared as drought-hit areas by Bihar government.

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - HUNGER ALERT PROGRAMME

Hunger Alert Update: AHRC-HAC-005-2009



8 September 2009

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INDIA: Villagers die of hunger due to corruption in public food distribution and lack of livelihood in Bihar

ISSUES: Right to food; malnutrition; corruption; caste system
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Dear Friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received the information regarding the deaths of five villagers of hunger from the Hunger Free Bihar Campaign, a human rights group working on right to food in Bihar. According to the report, three of the deceased villagers had not received benefits from the public services to ensure food security and livelihood which they were entitled to. It has been disclosed that the public services failed to take action to prevent the deaths and ensure the food security due to corruption and the neglect of the relevant public officials. Jehanabad and Nalanda districts where the deceased resided are the two areas out of 26 districts officially declared as drought-hit areas by Bihar government.

CASE DETAIL:

Between 10 to 14 August 2009, five villagers died of hunger. Three of the five lived in Rattu Bigha, Dhuriari village, Ghosi Block, Jehanabad District, Bihar. Rattu Bigha is predominantly occupied by Dalits who is the lowest social class of the Hindu caste system and officially categorized as the Scheduled Caste.

Ms. Kunti Devi died on August 10. She lived with her husband Mahendra Paswan. Mahendra, the bread earner, is landless but a traditional bamboo basket maker which is his only source of livelihood. He has four hens and one buffalo that is rented from a neighbour to share the profits. They had an Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) ration card which is issued to the poorest among under the Public Food Distribution System (PDS). However, they were refused permission to collect rations from the shop and furthermore, the Block Development Officer claimed that they had never been beneficiaries from the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) to get 'a 100 day-work'. As a result, they found it difficult to manage food, which eventually lead to Kunti's death.

Mr. Charitter Dom died on August 10. Charitter was also an AAY card holder (card No. 15938 from June 2008 to May 2009, and card No. 16133 from June 2009 to August 2010) was never able to collect rations from the ration shop. Despite the fact that he had a job card issued on February 2, 2006 under the NREGA, there is no entry of his work on his card. Only after he died, his family was given one hundred kilograms of wheat and rice and INR 1,500 (USD 30) for his funeral. Another villager, Janardhan Mahto who died of hunger on August 13, was not given a job card ensuring his food security.

There are 75 households belonging to the Dalit community in Rattu Bigha, Dhuriari village. According to the official records, 20 households have AAY ration cards, 53 have Below the Poverty Line (BPL) ration cards and two have Annapurna Yajana cards which are issued to the old and destitute providing 10 kilograms of grains (6kg of wheat and 4kg of rice) per month free of cost.

According to the testimonies of the villagers, the ration shopkeeper (officially known as ‘fair price shop’) Anil Sharma, has not properly provided the subsidized rations for the past several months. Since June 2008, none of the AAY card holders have collected wheat and rice regularly. Some could afford to buy 25 kilograms of ration per month (15 kilograms of wheat and 10 kilograms of rice), which is less than the 35 kilograms of ration earmarked under the PDS since 2002. Rice is subsidized at 3 rupees per kilogram and wheat at 2 rupees per kilogram. However, they had to pay 90 rupees in total as if they were given 35 kilograms of grain in total. Others never collect grains from the ration shop; Amrit Manjhi (card No. 5546), Vim Manjhi (card No. 5560) and Moti Manjhi (card No. 5556). On the other hand, the shopkeeper continuously makes the excuse that there is a shortage of food grains, and keeps the ration shop closed for several days at a time.

There is an allegation on corruption in the matter of issuing job cards. Santosh Paswan has not received a job card despite having applied for it in 2008. In addition, the administration charges INR 30 for photos of the applicants, for which the local administration is supposed to cover.

Two more villagers died of starvation in Jhawan village, Nursarai Block, Nalanda District. Ms. Phulmati Devi (40 years old) and her one-year kid Sugan died of starvation on 12 August, 2009. She was a member of Dalit community and landless farm labourer.

As was found in Rattu Bigha, Dhuriari village, 75 households living in Jhawan village have also been deprived of the right to food. Many of the villagers who have AAY card have neither been collecting rations regularly from the ration shop for months, nor been employed under the NREGA. Phulmati and her child could hardly manage enough food under the circumstances which lead to their deaths due to hunger.

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS:

There are three main public programmes to ensure the food security in India; the Public Food Distribution System (PDS), the Integrated Child Development System (ICDS), and 100 day-employment guarantee system under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA). For the school children's food security in particular, the government provides meals to all students at schools under the Mid-day Meal Scheme.

As it is shown in the above two villages, these programmes do not function well and this is leading to deaths and malnutrition of the villagers who are the most socially and economically vulnerable groups. Dalits living in rural area economically depend on the farm land which belongs to the upper caste people and like Dalits throughout India are socially discriminated against by other castes. This is the reason why the corrupt public servants can benefits by discriminating against the beneficiaries, mostly Dalits of the public programmes ensuring food security.

In the case of Dhuriari village, despite the fact that the cook for the Mid-day Meal at school should be from the Dalit community, a non-Dalit cook was appointed. This was because the teachers and the students did not want a Dalit cook to serve the meals. This is quite obviously discrimination against Dalits, violating the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

The PDS ration shops merely provide 25 kilograms of rations, which is much less than the portion earmarked by the Supreme Court Order while the shopkeepers do not distribute the rations. It explains that despite of the vulnerability of the poor in Bihar the government is failing to meet the supply and the demand and even failing to prevent corruption and crimes relating to food security.

It is also reported that the Child Care Centres (Anganwadi Centres; AWCs) in the villages only open 6-7 days a month. The AWC is a primary facility to provide immunization and supplement food for the children under age of six and pregnant women at village level. According to the Supreme Court Order on ICDS, the administrations are supposed to spend Rs. 2 per child per day and Rs. 2.7 per malnourished child per day at the AWCs.

The Supreme Court Order (2003) states that the PDS shop keeper's authorization should be cancelled for the following reasons. They do not keep their shops open throughout the month, they fail to provide grain to BPL families only at BPL rates, make false entries on the BPL cards, engage in black-racketeering, and siphon away grain to the open market and hand over ration shops to non-authorised persons/organisations.

The Public Distribution System (Control) Order 2001 also puts down in law that any person who contravenes any provision of the order will be punished under Section 7 of the Essential Commodities Act (ECA) 1955. The punishment is imprisonment for a term of not less than three months which could be extended up to seven years together with a fine. Furthermore, Session 9 of the ECA 1955 stipulates that if any person makes a false statement in any book, account, record, declaration or other document they shall face imprisonment for a term which may be extended to five years and subject to a fine.

However, the local administration has denied the fact that the villagers died of starvation. Sub-divisional Magistrate, Ramesh Kumar Sharma said that the administration allotted a quintal of food grain to every village council (Panchayat) to meet the emergencies. On the contrary, the deceased villagers’ families neither collected grains from the ration shop regularly nor received any grains for emergency.

The District Magistrate of Jehanabad District Palika Sahni announced that action would be taken against the shopkeepers of the PDS shops, and that they would make an effort to identify the gaps between the food distribution and the demand and provide the villagers on priority. Until now, the food distribution has not reached the villagers suffering from the food insecurity. State government and the local administration not only fail to meet the food distribution and demands in vulnerable areas but also fail to monitor the system relating to food security due to corruption.

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please write a letter to express your deep concern about starvation deaths in Bihar. Please take a note that the corrupt government officials should be punished after a thorough investigation into the matter. The AHRC has also written a separate letter to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India and to the UN Special Rapporteur calling for intervention on the Right to Food.

To support this appeal, please click here:

SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear __________,

Re: INDIA: Please punish to the public servants practicing corruption causing starvation deaths and food insecurity in Bihar

The villagers died of hunger:
1. Ms. Kunti Devi, a member of Dalits community, died on 10 August, 2009
2. Mr. Charittar Dom, a member of Dalits community
3. Mr. Janardan Mahto, a member of Extreme Backward Caste community
The villagers whose rights are violated:
1. Amrit Manjhi, Vim Manjhi and Moti Manjhi living Rattu Bigha, Dhuriari village, Ghosi Block, Jehanabad District, who have never collected the rations from the ration shop
2. Other villagers who have paid INR 90 than INR 60 for 25 kilograms of the ration
(All the villagers live in Rattu Bigha, Dhuriari village, Ghosi Block, Jehanabad District, Bihar)
The villager died of hunger:
Ms. Phulmati Devi (40 years old) and her one-year kid Sugan, died on 12 August, 2009
The villagers whose rights are violated:
1. Mr. Santosh Paswan, deprived of his job card
2. Vim Manjhi, Amrit Manjhi, Sanjeevan Manjhi, Banwari Manjhi, Ganga Manjhi, Mohan Manjhi, Birju Manjhi, Jamun Manjhi, Sajan Manjhi, Surendra Manjhi, Salendra Manjhi, Upendra Manjhi, Arjun Manjhi, Sanjeet Manjhi, Jitendra Manjhi, Koushlendra Paswan, Bhushan Paswan, Navlesh Paswan, Jugeshwar Paswan, Baleshwar Paswan, Nagina Paswan, Udresh Paswan and other, illegally charged INR 30 for photo of job card application
3. Other villagers who have not collected the rations from the ration shop regularly
(All the villagers live in Jhawan village, Nursarai Block, Nalanda District, Bihar)
The public officials allegedly responsible for the deaths:
1. Anil Sharma, a shopkeeper of the ration shop (fair price shop) under the Public Food Distribution System in Dhuriari village who did not provide subsidized food grains. It is against Essential Commodities Act (ECA) 1955.
2. Rakesh Ranjan, Block Development Officer of Ghosi Block, Jehanabad District
3. Chairperson, village council (Panchayat) of Dhuriari village, Ghosi Block, Jehanabad District
4. Fakhruddin, a shopkeeper of the ration shop in Jhawan village, Nursarai Block, Nalanda District
5. Saeed Ahmad, a chairperson of village council, Jhawan village, Nursarai Block, Nalanda District
Location:
1. Rattu Bigha, Dhuriari village, Ghosi Block, Jehanabad District, Bihar
2. Jhawan village, Nursarai Block, Nalanda District, Bihar

I am writing to express my deep concern about starvation deaths and food insecurity in Bihar.

I am informed that five villagers died of hunger in August, 2009. Three out of them lived in Rattu Bigha, Dhuriari village, Ghosi Block, Jehanabad District, Bihar. Other two live in Jhawan village, Nursarai Block, Nalanda District.

According to the report by Hunger Free Bihar Campaign, all of them are landless labourers belonging to the Dalit community who is the lowest social group by Hindu Caste system. One of them was a member of Extremely Backward Caste which is also an economically and politically vulnerable group in Bihar.

I have learned that the three main public programmes ensuring food security in rural area have not been functioning properly. In particular the severe drought this year infringes the food security in the villages which has been aggravated by malfunction of public programmes.

I am informed that the ration shop licensed under the Public Food Distribution System Dhuriari village distributes 25 kilograms of rice and wheat in total which is much less than 35 kilograms earmarked by the Supreme Court Order 2003. Despite this the shop keeper charges the amount of money amounting for 35 kilograms. The families of the deceased have not collected rations for several months although they have AAY ration cards to get the rations at the cheapest price. Moreover, the shop remains closed for most of the time. I have studied that it is a crime against the Essential Commodity Act 1955, however the shop keeper makes the excuse that the shop does not have enough grains for distribution.

I am further informed that there is an allegation of corruption in the issuing of job cards. Santosh Paswan has not received a job card despite having applied for it in 2008. In addition, the administration charges INR 30 for photos of the applicants, for which the local administration is supposed to cover.

I am informed that the Child Care Centres (Anganwadi Centre in local language) also do not open every day nor do they provide supplementary grains regularly. I am aware that the Centres have a significant role for food and health security providing vaccines and supplementary grains for the children under age of six and the pregnant women at village level.

However, the local administration has denied that the villagers died of starvation. Sub-divisional Magistrate, Ramesh Kumar Sharma said that the administration allotted a quintal of food grains to every village council (Panchayat) to meet the emergencies. On the contrary, the deceased villagers’ families neither collected grains from the ration shop regularly nor received any grains for emergency.

The District Magistrate of Jehanabad District Palika Sahni announced that action would be taken against the shopkeepers of the PDS shops, and that they would make an effort to identify the gaps between the food distribution and the demand and provide the villagers on priority. Until now, the food distribution has not reached the villagers suffering from the food insecurity. State government and the local administration not only fail to meet the food distribution and demands in vulnerable areas but also fail to monitor the system relating food security due to corruption.

The right to food is a fundamental right as is the right to life with dignity in India. The Government of India fails to fulfil its obligation as a state party of the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). It is a shame that the government does not guarantee the fundamental rights due to corruption and neglect.

I, therefore, urge you to immediately take actions like below:

1. Relieve of their posts all relevant public servants infringing the right to food and enjoying corruption and neglect;
2. Provide 35 kilograms of grains for the poor under the PDS;
3. Run the PDS shops and the Child Care Centres (Anganwadi Centers) regularly according to the Supreme Court Orders;
4. Provide compensations for the deceased families as well as the other villagers who have been charged unnecessary cost for the rations and job card

I look forward to prompt and positive response from you.

Sincerely yours,

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PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. Alka Sirohi
Secretary
Department of Food and Public Distribution
Government of India
INDIA
Fax: +91 11 2338 6052
E-mail: secy-food@nic.in

2. Principal Secretary
Ministry of Health & Family Welfare
Nirman Bhavan
Maulana Azad Road
New Delhi - 110011
INDIA
Fax: +91 11 2306 1751
E-mail: hfm@alpha.nic.in

3. Mr. Nitish Kumar
Chief Minister
Bihar
INDIA
E-mail: cmbihar-bih@nic.in

4. Mr. Devanand Konwar
Governor of Bihar
Governor House, B.G.Camp,
Patna - 800 022
Bihar
INDIA
E-mail: governorbihar@nic.in

5. Mr. Narendra Singh
Minister of Food and Consumer Protection Department
Bihar
India

6. Palka Sahni
District Magistrate
Jehanabad District
Bihar
INDIA
Fax: +91 6114 223 142
E-mail: dm-jehanabad.bih@nic.in

7. Sanjay Kumar Agarwala
District Magistrate
Nalanda District
Nalanda- 843101, Bihar
INDIA
Fax: +91 6112 235 205
E-mail: dm-nalanda.bih@nic.in

8. Country Director
World Food Programme
2 Poorvi Marg, Vasant Vihar
New Delhi 110057
INDIA
Fax: +91 112 615 0019
E-mail: wfp.newdelhi@wfp.org

9. UNICEF
73 Lodi Estates
New Delhi 110 003
INDIA
Fax: + 91 11 2462 7521 / 11 2469 1410
E-mail: newdelhi@unicef.org

Thank you.

Right to Food Programme (foodjustice@ahrc.asia)
Urgent Appeal Programme (ua@ahrc.asia)
Asian Human Rights Commission

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